REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Water Engine: An American Fable

By David Mamet

The Water Engine: An American Fable
The Water Engine: An American Fable

Directed by Brian Golden

Produced by Theatre Seven of Chicago

At the Greenhouse Theater Center, Chicago

Well performed 30’s style radio play a cautionary tale for all-times

Few knew that David Mamet could write a play without using the F-word let alone a 30-40’s style radio play complete with Foley arts and actors playing multiple roles.  His 1977 radio play is a triumph for the young players from Theatre Seven of Chicago as they deftly moved through being announcers, role players and crowd noises, etc.

This 75  minute one-act is set in Chicago in 1934 during the Century of Progress Exposition setting themes of industrial progress including rockets and moon landings in the near future. Mamet’s fable underscores the myth of man’s battle with institutions who only want progress if they both control and profit from it.

Meet Charles Lang (Cody Proctor), a individual scientist who has invented an engine that runs on water. His engine would revolutionize industry and render our dependence on fossil fuels mute. The naivete scientists desires to patent his invention so he contacts a lawyer out of the phone book. That starts his trouble as the lawyer and his associates attempt to terrorize him into selling his invention, its prototype and its plans. Lang’s quest for scientific progress threatens the status quo as forces line up to thwart his intentions.  A classic battle between one man and the forces of industry looms.

The use of ten actors playing many parts and the fine foley artists make for a pleasingly smart production. This storytelling style (a radio play format) showcases the talents of the cast. Voice inflections, sound effects, accents and articulation of Mamet’s precise dialogue worked to stimulate our imaginations into seeing  Lang’s  struggle to survive and hide his invention from those who would destroy him. This fable comes to life from the ambitious cast and clever staging by director Brian Golden. Radio plays work nicely on stage as the sounds and nimble acting propel the storytelling. Mamet’s classic cautionary tale is in good hands with this crew. The work is engaging and lively.


Tom Williams

At the Greenhouse theatre Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-404-7336, tickets $18 – $20, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, running time is 75 minutes without intermission.

One thought on “The Water Engine: An American Fable

  • MaryBeth

    We saw this play on Saturday evening and were thoroughly entertained.

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